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Royal Navy and French Navy commemorate the D-Day Landings

2 June 2016
A team of Royal Navy and French Navy cyclists are set to re-trace the route of the Allied forces who took part in the D-Day landings and liberation of Paris in World War 2.

The group of 20 – 10 from each nation – will leave HMS Drake in Plymouth on Friday 3 June and plan to make their way to Paris via Portsmouth, arriving in the French capital five days later; a distance of over 750 kilometres.

The purpose of the challenge is to raise money for the Help for Heroes charity and the French equivalent, AD Agusta, while also strengthening the close bonds and mutual interests of both navies.

The team will start their epic challenge after meeting veterans at the Naval Service Recovery Centre, in Endeavour Building, the Help for Heroes funded facility within HMS Drake.

The challenge has been organised by long-term friends, Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Gary Mills, who currently works at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), and Lt Cdr Colin Castle, the Royal Navy’s representative in Brest, France, and two of his colleagues Warrant Officer Olivier Guenezen and Senior Chief Petty Officer Sylvain Frapper of the Marine National.  

Lt Cdr Mills and Lt Cdr Castle joined the Royal Navy together in 1981, originally as ratings and later both transferred to the Officer Corps, attending the same course at BRNC in 1997.

On a personal note I am thrilled to be taking part in such a venture; not only by helping to bring together such a combined team of Service personnel who enjoy cycling to follow such an epic route, taken by our Allies before, but also to highlight the sacrifices that both our nations’ Armed Forces personnel have and continue to make.

Lt Cdr Mills

Lt Cdr Mills said: “Colin, plus his French colleagues and I came up with the idea for this last summer.

"We wanted to do something that would both honour the commitment and bravery of the Service personnel who came before us and provide a challenging training activity where our two Navies could get together and raise money for good causes.

"The Royal Navy team is made up mostly of staff from BRNC, including four Officer Cadets who are part-way through their initial naval training course and another who has recently passed out of training.

"The other member of the team is based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham.

“On a personal note I am thrilled to be taking part in such a venture; not only by helping to bring together such a combined team of Service personnel who enjoy cycling to follow such an epic route, taken by our Allies before, but also to highlight the sacrifices that both our nations’ Armed Forces personnel have and continue to make. 

"Both Colin and I studied D-Day during our initial officer training, so to be in Normandy on 6 June will be extra special.” 

On day one of the challenge the team will call in at Slapton Sands, in Devon. There they will lay a wreath by the Sherman Tank at Torcross in memory of the 749 American Servicemen who died during Operation Tiger, the codename for a D-Day rehearsal.

They will stay overnight at BRNC before making their way to Blandford, Dorset, the following day.

Day three will see the team head to Portsmouth where they will be welcomed aboard HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, by Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock, the Second Sea Lord.

The group will also lay a wreath at the War Memorial on Southsea Common before taking the overnight ferry to France.

Arriving in Caen on 6th June, 72 years to the day after the landings took place, the team will join veterans and local people for the Service of Remembrance at the British and Commonwealth Cemetery in Bayeux.

They will then move on to tour the Normandy beaches and attend the commemorative service at Arramanches in the afternoon.

Their final destination of the day will be Pegasus Bridge where British airborne forces landed, behind enemy lines on 6 June 1944, to capture two vital bridges to clear the way for the Allied advance.

Day five of the ride will see the team make their way from Caen to the outskirts of Paris, where they will stay overnight.

The finale of the event will be a ride down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and a visit to the Palais des Invalides then onto a reception at the British Embassy.

Lt Cdr Castle has worked in France for a number of years as part of the French / UK bilateral agreement.  An experience cyclist he and his colleagues have organised and taken part in a number of sporting challenges, including the Barcelona marathon and a cycle up the three routes of Mont Ventoux, a stage of the Tour de France, in one day to raise money for injured French military personnel. 

He said: “I see on a daily basis the strong working relationship we have between our two great nations. Not only is this event in aid of two great charities but it also goes to prove and strengthen our very strong and common working relationships at all levels of the Armed Forces. 

"We are really looking forward to getting started, meeting this challenge head on and in particular the 100kms around Normandy on the 6th June.

"This will not only be physically demanding but emotional as well.

"I and the rest of the team here are also really looking forward to the ride into Portsmouth and the ride to Paris, a challenging 230kms in one day. Being able to finish the challenge in such a historic place will be very poignant and also a very proud moment for all of us.”

Anyone wishing to support the team can do so online by logging on to: 

www.facebook.com/FRUK2016navalcyclingchallenge

Help for Heroes www.justgiving.com/FR-UK-Cyclingchallenge-2016

AD Augusta:  www.leetchi.com/c/association-ad-augusta

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